What does Laurence Lessig’s 2002 Free Culture presentation tell us today?

I was reading Venture Hacks this afternoon and I am indebted to Naval Ravikant for bringing this Laurence Lessig presentation to my attention.

You can find Naval’s presentation on how to present to VCs here.



Laurence Lessig gave a presentation in 2002 on the subject of Free Culture.  10 years on his words are worryingly prophetic.

Laurence Lessig is an American academic well known for his views on “reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark, and radio frequency spectrum” Wikipedia.  You can find out more about him on Wikipedia here.

In 2002, Lessig presented his keynote to the Open Source Convention entitled “Free Culture” in which he challenged his audience to protect free culture by getting more involved in the political process.

His presentation has particular resonance today in the era of Patent Wars.

His presentation can be found here and I strongly recommend you listen to it.  The presentation, transcripts and slides can be found at www.randomfoo.net.

I want to reproduce the core “refrain” of the presentation – hopefully he will permit this.

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

He then quotes Bill Gates, very effectively:

“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”

Gates’s solution to this:

“The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors.”

Now I ask you to reflect on the Patent Wars that are going on today between all the big technology firms and you should ask yourself why this is happening. Are they protecting their rights against each other or following a more worrying strategy?

I am very worried about this, are you?  Tell me what you think, leave a comment or email me at jbdcolley[at]aol[dot]com.

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